Nfld. & Labrador

Eddie Joyce suing Dwight Ball, former colleagues and commissioner for defamation

Independent MHA Eddie Joyce is suing four people, including the premier, for defamation over the handling of a harassment complaint that saw him turfed from the Liberal cabinet and caucus in 2018.

Independent MHA makes series of allegations about probe into his conduct

Independent MHA Eddie Joyce, right, pictured here in 2019, has filed a statement of claim at Supreme Court in Corner Brook. He is suing Premier Dwight Ball, left, two other colleagues, and the commissioner of legislative standards for defamation. (CBC)

Independent MHA Eddie Joyce is suing four people, including the premier, for defamation over the handling of a harassment complaint that saw him turfed from the Liberal cabinet and caucus in 2018.

In a statement of claim filed at Supreme Court in Corner Brook, Joyce makes a series of striking allegations against Premier Dwight Ball, former Speaker Perry Trimper, MHA Sherry Gambin-Walsh, and Bruce Chaulk — the commissioner of legislative standards who acts as the ethics watchdog for MHAs.

Joyce alleges that Ball told him during the investigation that the initial complaint — filed by cabinet colleague Gambin-Walsh — was "all bullshit," and that Ball was going to fire her from cabinet.

Joyce says in court filings that he was in regular contact with Ball between April 2018, when the complaint was filed, and late October 2018, when a report by the commissioner of legislative standards was released publicly.

Joyce says Ball would call him up to five or six times a day, and he ultimately refused to answer the phone.

In his statement of claim, Joyce says he was contacted by two Liberal MHAs — Mark Browne and Carol Anne Haley — soon after the investigation began.

He says they reached out to him about text messages from Gambin-Walsh that concerned confidential cabinet deliberations and "exculpatory" information about Joyce.

At the time, Browne and Haley were Liberal MHAs, but were not in cabinet.  

Joyce alleges Ball came into possession of the texts and told two unnamed people outside a government office building in Corner Brook that he had enough information to "clear Eddie" and that he will "be fine."

The Independent MHA for Humber-Bay of Islands says he does not have the text messages in question, but is aware of their existence and basic content.

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, seen here in 2019, is the former minister of Service NL. (CBC)

In his lawsuit, Joyce also says the premier contacted Chaulk repeatedly during his investigation of the complaint.

None of the allegations have been tested in court, and Joyce declined comment when contacted by CBC News.

Joyce contends that actions the defendants took during the harassment investigation defamed him.

Joyce is seeking more than $400,000 in special damages, in addition to unspecified amounts for general and aggravated damages.

Perry Trimper, pictured here in a 2019 file photo, previously served as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. (Katie Breen/CBC)

In a statement, the premier's office says Ball is not aware of a lawsuit, and hasn't been served with any documents.

Trimper also told CBC News that he is unaware of the legal action, and declined comment.

Gambin-Walsh and Chaulk did not immediately return messages.

In the past, the premier has denied using the term "BS" to describe the allegations against Joyce.

Joyce was removed — first from cabinet, then from the Liberal caucus — in late April 2018, after complaints about harassment and bullying.

At the time, Gambin-Walsh confirmed she lodged the complaint against him.

The matter was referred to Chaulk's office for an investigation.

The commissioner cleared Joyce of bullying and harassment, but found he broke the code of conduct for elected officials, over lobbying efforts to have a friend hired for a government job.

In a section of his lawsuit titled "Malicious Prosecution," Joyce alleges there was no "factual basis" for that decision.

He also says Chaulk made a legal error in applying a principle that is only supposed to govern interactions between MHAs and their staff.

Bruce Chaulk, seen in this 2019 file photo, is the commissioner of legislative standards, who acts as the ethics watchdog for MHAs. (Katie Breen/CBC)

Joyce alleges that then House of Assembly Speaker Perry Trimper exceeded his authority, and took actions that harmed him.

Joyce also claims public statements by Gambin-Walsh and text messages she sent to other politicians unfairly damaged his reputation.

Gambin-Walsh now under RCMP investigation

While Joyce's lawsuit contends Gambin-Walsh disclosed confidential cabinet deliberations in early 2018, she is now under police scrutiny over similar, more recent, allegations.

Last month, Gambin-Walsh lost her cabinet post after the RCMP, with a warrant, seized her cellphones as part of a breach of trust investigation.

An RCMP affidavit said police are probing whether Gambin-Walsh leaked information from government processes that are subject to cabinet confidence over a period from June 2018 through this past March. 

Those allegations have not yet been proven in court, and no charges have been laid.

Ball issued a statement in April saying he "immediately took the necessary steps to remove her from cabinet and her cabinet responsibilities" after finding out Gambin-Walsh had been served with the warrant.

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